Alice Guy-Blaché was a daughter of a bookseller, a mother of two, a dreamer, a divorcée, a French feminist, a secretary, a pioneer, a filmmaker, a fashionista, an innovator, a studio manager, a friend. She was also the first female film director in the motion-picture industry, and one of the first directors to incorporate narrative storytelling into filmmaking, but changes are you’ve never heard of her.
Directors Pamela Green and Jarik van Sluijs, along with their filmmaking partners at the Pic Agency, are looking to change that through their documentary – appropriately titled Be Natural, after the auteur’s clever mantra.
Green came across Alice’s story from a documentary segment, Reel Models, about pioneering women of cinema. She recognized many of the women depicted in the segment – names like Mary Pickford, Francis Marion, and Lois Weber – but this was the first time she’d heard of Alice Guy- Blaché.
“I didn’t gone to film school, but I’m familiar with those other names, you see things on TV or read about them in books about the industry, but I was surprised I had never heard of (Alice)” says Green. “I looked her up and realized everything she’d accomplished, and I kept her story in the back of my head.”
In Paris in the year 1895, the Lumière Brothers held one of their first private screenings using their revolutionary Cinématographe. A young Alice, secretary to Léon Gaumont at the time, was in is in attendance. In that screening Alice saw something the scientists and inventors who created moving pictures did not, and less than a year later Alice – a woman of only 23-years of age, without many of the same rights as her male contemporaries including the right to vote – made one of the first narrative films in history. But she didn’t stop there.
“Alice was basically the CEO for Gaumont; she had vision, and clearly was an entrepreneur,” says Green. “Then the person who ended up investing in the company ended up being Mr. Eiffel Tower himself – so this woman is like the “Where’s Waldo” of all of these famous people from that time period.”
A pioneering face of the film industry, Alice is responsible for many of the attributes commonplace in the industry today, from the techniques used to the structure of the business. Alice refused to let her age, gender or fear stop her from pursuing her dream. She worked her way up to the head of production for Gaumont, a studio still in existence and responsible for the making of many big name films today (The Fifth Element, The Intouchables). During a career spanning over 25 years, Alice produced and directed more than 700 films and was the first woman to open her own studio, Solax Films in 1912.
“In her time, Alice’s entrepreneurial and creative drive were equal to that of the greatest visionaries of our time – no less so than Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, James Cameron, or Elon Musk,” says Green. “And her accomplishments as a forerunner in her medium can be paralleled to those of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, hitRECord creator Joseph Gordon-Levitt, or Tumblr founder David Karp, who are all part of the new wave of thinkers who have merged technology, business, and creativity to help tell the stories of our time.”
If you’re reading this article, you likely contain at least a moderate interest in the film industry and the future of the medium, but that’s not the only reason Alice’s story should matter to you. In a time where technology continues to bring about rapid changes in the film industry and to the world at large, we can’t help but think of the innovators living and working at the turn of the century; the modern men and women whose lives no doubt parallel with our own lives today. The early years of the 20th century welcomed the invention of film, the camera, the projector, and the Chronophone sound system, to name a few.
Today, we are witnessing a digital revolution, and its effects on cinema among many other creative industries. With new forms of social and digital media constantly emerging the rules are written as we go, and they continue to be revised, making Alice’s story more relevant that ever.
“What did it mean to work with pioneering technologies at the end of the 19th century? What does it mean to work with pioneering technologies of the 21st century? What can we learn from this film pioneer as she found new ways to visually tell new stories?”
These are questions raised by the filmmakers of Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blache, a story that follows the history of the industry from it’s humble beginnings to its iconic Hollywood setting of today, while returning an influential entrepreneur, filmmaker, woman and icon to her rightful place within that history. This groundbreaking documentary is as much a personal tale of innovation and tragedy, as it is a story so big it encompasses the history of cinema itself.
With only a few days left the fate of Alice Guy-Blaché and Be Natural is yet to be determined. You can be a part of Green and her team’s efforts to help Alice Guy-Blaché regain her rightful place in the history of film by visiting to the film’s Kickstarter campaign. You can also follow this project on Twitter @BeNaturalMovie, #SaveAlice